October 30, 2014

Will Utah Matter in the GOP Race for President?

[Posted today on KSL.com]

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According to a Deseret News/KSL poll Utahns believe Mitt Romney alone can beat Barack Obama in November (surprise!).  And yet, today, on Super Tuesday, as ten states hold primaries, Utah is not one of them. In fact,  Utah casts its vote for the Republican nominee dead last.  Even with a nomination battle likely to continue into the spring, the race may be over by then.

 Maybe.

Remember when there were eight candidates in the field?  Then Iowa and New Hampshire voted, and suddenly, with just forty delegate votes allocated (out of 1,144 necessary to win the nomination), Michelle Bachmann, Jon Huntsman, and Rick Perry all dropped out. Herman Cain, marred by scandal, had left the campaign earlier. And then there were four: Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Romney, and Rick Santorum.

In a country of 300 million, the only votes cast were in  Iowa (about 120,000 votes)  and New Hampshire (about 224,000 votes), yet candidates were dropping like flies.  How had so few narrowed down the field of choices so quickly?

We Vote for the Popular Candidate

If it seems unfair, then consider the Britney Effect. In a study published in Science 2006, researchers found that social popularity was a better indicator of how well a book or a song would sell than quality. In other words, if you see that others are reading and discussing Harry Potter, you’re more likely to pick it up yourself, regardless of quality.

So if you thought Bachmann had the answers for America, it didn’t matter. Her race was over as soon as the primary battle began. As soon as the results from Iowa, and then New Hampshire, were released, polls started showing bumps in popularity of the contest winners. Santorum, who spent months on the margins of debates practically whining he that he wasn’t getting the same amount of camera time that front-runners were, suddenly sprung to national attention as he eked out a win in Iowa.  If Iowans like Santorum, he must be electable, right?

Strange rational, and yet, it buoyed the former Senator to wins in Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri. From zero to hero, Santorum became the newest rendition of “not Romney” for Republicans unwilling to throw their support behind Romney.

Can you imagine how the results might be different if states across the country voted simultaneously?

Super Tuesday?

Today, March 6th, is Super Tuesday. Voters in Alaska, Georgia, Idaho, Massachusetts, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont, and Virginia will vote for the last four remaining contenders. By this time four years ago, Romney had dropped out of the race, and John McCain was well on his way to the nomination.  Since then, the Republican National Committee has modified the rules to lengthen out the nomination process. That’s right: it isn’t by accident that the race isn’t over yet. As the Boston Globe reported, Republicans changed the rules to energize Republicans and take back the White House:

The rules, known as proportional representation, are patterned after the system long used by Democrats to award delegates in their primaries. Republicans looked at the prolonged 2008 Democratic primary between Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama and believed that, despite its occasional divisiveness, the battle helped excite Democrats and starve the Republican candidate, John McCain, of attention.

“McCain sat on the sidelines and couldn’t get a headline and was ignored,’’ said Paul Senft, a Republican National Committee member from Florida who helped draft the new rules.

Now, rather than making each contest a foregone conclusion in the favor of the front-runner, more states are in contention. Nate Silver predicts that Super Tuesday won’t see one winner, but will split between Romney, Gingrich, and Santorum (sorry, Paul). Gingrich will capture his home state of Georgia, while Romney will take Massachusetts, his home and where he served as Governor. Oklahoma and Wisconsin will swing to Santorum. Meanwhile, Ohio, where Santorum was polling in front as recently as a week ago, is starting to turn to Romney (see what wins in Michigan, Arizona, and Washington will do?).  As a swing state in the General Election, the spin-doctors (and the Obama campaign) will be watching the Buckeye state closely. And don’t forget Tennessee, where Gingrich seems to be surging in polls…

Wherefore, Utah? 

So might it still matter when Utahns go to the polls on June 26th? For that matter, why isn’t Utah voting until the beginning of summer, anyway?

Due to the Military and Overseas Voter Act or “MOVE” Act, federal elections must give absentee voters overseas forty-five days to vote after the previous contest. In Utah’s case, that means that the earliest a primary can be held is forty-five days after the Republican or Democrat state party conventions in April. Despite efforts by the Romney campaign to talk Utah into moving the vote to earlier, the $2.5 million cost to move the primary away from the regularly scheduled date was too much for legislators to swallow.  Utah will vote last.

In the meantime, is there still a chance that Utah could play a deciding role in a race that has seen so many front-runners? Statistically speaking, it’s impossible for any of the candidates to get enough votes before April. With 1962 votes remaining, and Romney–currently the leader with 180 delegates–needing another 964 votes, the race could continue all the way through May, to say nothing of June.

Could Utah get its chance to vote for Romney when it still matters? Only time will tell.

You might live in a swing state if…

…you’re more likely to run into a candidate for the White House than a Mormon missionary when you get a knock at the door.

I ran into an interesting set of data today: voter turnout nationally has never really been that high, and while it may be falling, it’s never really changed in Presidential years.

Voter Turnout in Presidential Elections from 1948-2008

Why is it that voter turnout seems stuck somewhere between 55 and 65%? What would it take to boost participation? [Read more...]